December 16, 2008, 12:00 AM

U.S. Postal Service web site is still blocking delivery of shipping tools

E-retailers continue to experience problems using online shipping tools from the U.S. Postal Service, which blames “intermittent system interruptions” for the lack of services such as the presentation of shipping costs in online shopping carts.

Katie Evans

Managing Editor, International Research

E-retailers are continuing to experience problems using online shipping tools from the U.S. Postal Service, which is reporting “intermittent system interruptions” as the cause for the unavailability of services such as shipping costs presented in online shopping carts.

When the problems were first reported last week, the Postal Service said it was working with technology vendors to fix a situation that, at best, has left several online shipping tools available only sporadically. A U.S.P.S. spokesman did not immediately return a call for comment today.

“We can’t rely on the tools, because just when it seems we can, they run blind again,” says Justin Meats, vice president of e-commerce at 1st in Video Music World Inc., a web-only retailer of consumer electronics, golfing products and travel services.

Shoppers who place products into shopping carts on Video Music World’s web sites, which include DiscountGolfWorld.com, YourElectronicWarehouse.com and 4DiscountTravel.com, are supposed to see within seconds the cost to ship an order by way of FedEx or the U.S. Postal Service. But in the past week, only the usually higher-cost figures from FedEx have routinely appeared, Meats says. That has resulted in a higher cart abandonment rate, he adds.

The lack of consistent service from the U.S.P.S. rate-finding software has also made it difficult for the retailer to run free-shipping programs, particularly on low-price products, because it is unable to figure the shipping costs with each order’s profit margin, Meats says.

For several days over the past week, the U.S.P.S. has run updated notices on its web site saying that it expected to fix its online shipping tools. But the notice appearing at mid-day today has been up since 7 p.m., Dec. 14, noting that the U.S.P.S. is “hopeful that full service, across the country, will be restored as soon as possible.”

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